Open-ended Questions vs Lists: A Review of Fireworks Opinions

Iowa Fireworks Regulations Opinions

In Iowa, fireworks regulations have been a hot topic since 2017 when the long-standing ban on them was removed. Since then, fireworks sales tents began popping up in nearly every large empty space around the state, from Walmart parking lots to rural highways.

Opinions on FireworksSince the removal of the total ban, there have been modifications in the law, largely on the city level, due to problems or complaints raised by some constituents. Dog lovers, parents of young children, and other groups were upset by the wild west of fireworks that was unleashed when the ban was removed, and they urged limitations.

Because of the patchwork system of regulations and the boundaries between the past and current standards being in flux, we asked members of our Iowa Opinion Panel (IOP) about their views on the subject to see if there was any consensus.


In June 2019, when the topic of fireworks returned to consumers’ minds, but before the heart of fireworks season, we asked members of the IOP what they personally felt the regulations for fireworks should be.

“Now that it’s summer, there will be more people interested in shooting off fireworks. What do you personally feel should be the regulations for using fireworks? Include details such as times, dates, and locations you feel they should be allowed or not allowed.”


This was an open-ended question, so analysis was open for some interpretation. The categories decided upon from these responses (shown in the chart below) were not exclusive except for “There should be no regulations at all”, “Professionals should be the only ones handling fireworks”, and “Fireworks should be banned entirely”. Although 16% of respondents had extreme opinions about whether they should exist in Iowa at all or have no regulations at all, most felt fireworks should be available for use within some parameters.

Comparison of results

Figure 1: Comparison of fireworks regulation opinions

Because regulations had been changed between the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019, but people had not experienced the result of those changes until after July of 2019, we asked IOP members for their opinions about fireworks again in October 2019. We were expecting some changes in opinions because people would have more experience with their new regulations and might either be getting used to fireworks, adapt their views after seeing the new regulations in action, or be more entrenched in their views.

This time, instead of an open-ended question, we listed the categories we had developed from the previous results. We allowed respondents to select all that applied except “There should be no regulations at all”, “Professionals should be the only ones handling fireworks”, and “Fireworks should be banned entirely”. We also provided a definition of fireworks this time because it was apparent from the previous results that some respondents were including non-fireworks, such as sparklers, in their personal definition of fireworks.

“Now that the summer is over and you’ve experienced the current regulations for your area, what do you personally feel should be the regulations for using fireworks?

Definition of fireworks for this question: small devices designed to produce audible effects, ground devices containing 50 mg or less of flash powder, and aerial devices containing 130 mg or less of flash powder. Examples include aerial shell kits and reloadable tubes, chasers, helicopter and aerial spinners, firecrackers, mine and shell devices, missile-type rockets, Roman candles, sky rockets, and bottle rockets. Things like sparklers and snakes are not fireworks; they are legally considered novelty items.”


All categories except “Only July 4th day or surrounding time period” showed significant changes between response formats. The gains made on the multi-select list version of the question were not surprising because people are more likely to select many options from a list than type long explanations into a text box.

What surprised us were the options that saw decreases. The option for no regulations was the most interesting. What caused this decrease? It could be because people changed their minds over time, or it might be due to people seeing some of the response suggestions and thinking they had value.

In addition to showing the differences between results you can obtain from an open-ended question versus a checklist, these findings provide support for the hypothesis that people at the extremes of opinion were adapting their views. Possibly those who previously were against any regulations were either coming to accept them or seeing that regulations might be wise, and those who were against fireworks being allowed were coming to accept their common usage with some regulation applied.

This analysis and article authored by Dr. Lori Dockery, Director of Quantitative Research at Vernon Research Group